Belmont Stakes trends: success hard to come by for Preakness starters

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 21st, 2021

The Belmont S. (G1) is back in its usual place on the calendar and at its traditional distance of 1 1/2 miles this year after the 2020 renewal was shortened to 1 1/8 miles and held in late June as the first leg of the Triple Crown in a pandemic-altered season. With Tiz the Law prevailing easily as an odds-on choice last summer, it's safe to omit that unusual edition from consideration when looking at broader-based trends in the race.

One of the more easily noticeable trends in recent Belmont history is how much of a negative lead-in race the Preakness (G1) has become. For example, 18 of the 29 Belmonts held from 1970-1998 were won by horses that had raced in the Preakness. But in the 21 Belmonts held from 1999-2019, only three winners previously competed in the Preakness. Those three include the Triple Crown heroes American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), as well as another heavy favorite in Afleet Alex (2005).

While there is something to be said about many horsemen's recent preference to tackle the Belmont with a five-week gap from the Kentucky Derby (G1) instead of the mere three weeks from the Preakness, several longshot winners during that period turned in their final preps four weeks or less before the Belmont. Among these were Sir Winston (2019), Tonalist (2014), Drosselmeyer (2010), Da' Tara (2008), Sarava (2002), and Lemon Drop Kid (1999). Da' Tara and Sarava actually had their final preps at Pimlico, just not in the Preakness.

Although horses that competed in the Preakness do not make up a large proportion of Belmont starters, those that do have often disappointed at short odds. Besides those who saw their Triple Crown dreams thwarted, examples include Preakness winners War of Will, Exaggerator, and Curlin. Add to that list Belmont favorites Orb and Mine That Bird, both of whom won the Kentucky Derby before losing the Preakness.

From 2014-19, a total of 18 horses competed in both the Preakness and Belmont. That's an average of three per year. Besides the winning American Pharoah and Justify, only one of the other 16 hit the board in the Belmont. That was Japanese invader Lani, who finished third in the 2016 edition.

Bettors might not actually have many Preakness starters to analyze going into this Belmont. With the defection this week of Keepmeinmind to the Ohio Derby (G3) and the general reluctance of Midnight Bourbon's connections to have their horse be the only one to compete in all three classics this year, that will leave only Preakness winner Rombauer and Japanese invader France Go de Ina as the only likely Pimlico alumni heading to Belmont.

Rombauer already has a lot of history to buck in attempting to sweep the last two legs of the Triple Crown without having competed in the first, while a foreign-based runner hasn't worn the Belmont carnations since Ireland's Go and Go prevailed in 1990. A potentially more likely outcome is that the negative trend of Preakness starters underachieving in the Belmont continues.